FRANKLIN — October is Health Literacy month, but what exactly is health literacy and why is it important? Health literacy is the ability for people to get information about conditions that affect them in plain, easy-to-understand language so they can make better lifestyle decisions, follow up with their doctor about needed tests, and signs or symptoms that could be warning of a worsened or more serious condition.

Studies have found that people with low health literacy are more likely to suffer from complications of illness and disease and less likely to seek out health care when needed. This means that by the time they seek help, their condition has often worsened to the point of requiring emergency care or having suffered permanent consequences.

A good example of health literacy involves recommended childhood immunizations. If caregivers and parents understand the importance of children staying up-to-date on vaccinations, like the MMR vaccine, and why they are still needed, they are more likely to get them on time. This helps avoid outbreaks of measles like in New York City in 2019. Making sure to get a tetanus shot booster every 10 years prevents concern when there is an unexpected encounter with a rusty nail or piece of barbed wire.

For people without chronic illness, an example of health literacy is for people with high blood pressure to know what their blood pressure is, as well as what their recommended range is, since providers will often give people on blood pressure medicine a goal range.

High blood pressure can cause damage to the small vessels in the eyes, kidneys, fingers and toes causing strokes, kidney failure, and blindness. High blood pressure may not feel any different even though it's doing damage.

Understanding more about high blood pressure helps people understand they need to check blood pressure regularly as it may not feel different. Health literacy on high blood pressure can also teach people about ways to modify diet to help keep blood pressure under control, exercise to lower blood pressure and that medications might be needed if recommended by a provider.

For more information, call 603-934-3454 or visit FranklinVNA.org.

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